Kalnik, Zagorje, Prigorje and Podravina, Croatia


  • Vukovec (or Gornja Rijeka) - Mali Kalnik - the lodge at Kalnik (-Veliki Kalnik - Vranilac Peak - Peca Vratno) - Krizevci



Kalnik rises on the boundary between Zagorje, Prigorje and Podravina, like an imposing, 16 km-long and approximately 400-500 m-high wall in a SW-NE direction. It has two parallel ridges - the northern one is forest-covered, while the southern one has a number of bare rocks jutting out from it - a rather unusual sight in the mellow landscape of Prigorje. Indeed, viewed from the south the southern ridge resembles a mighty barrier springing out of the plain. Throughout history this barrier has played a significant role in holding back the successive invasions of Tatars, Avars and Turks. It is rather curious that its watershed is not the southern ridge with the tallest peaks, but rather the northern one. A number of streams rising on the northern side of the main ridge make their way to the south through the area which required most effort, carving their beds across the ridge of Kalnik and expanded the Sava basin at the account of the Drava. It is quite fascinating how many different and interesting features are to be found in this relatively small and narrow area: two ancient ruins of imposing size; the Mali Kalnik botanical reserve; the Vranilac peak; a training route; an Alpine climbing site on the rocks of Kalnik. It is not without good reason that Kalnik has been declared a protected zone for its outstanding landscape, with certain of its localities enjoying even more rigid protection.


Vukovec (or Gornja Rijeka) - Mali Kalnik - the lodge at Kalnik (-Veliki Kalnik - Vranilac Peak - Peca Vratno) - Krizevci

APPROACH: by bus Zagreb - Fornja Rijeka - Krizevci, to Vukovec or Gornja Rijeka GORNJA RIJEKA is located in the foothills of the southern slope of Mali Kalnik. The settlement is known for the picturesque castle of the Erdödy which, back in 1858, was the home of the first eminent Croatian opera singer Sidonija Rubido-Erdödy, whose final resting place is in the local church. She was the first to sing the Croatian anthem, in this castle in Gornja Rijeka. From Gornja Rijeka to Mali Kalnik. If we start from Gornja Rijeka our route will first take us between the local inn and the parish office, following the markings through the village of Deklesanec to a large meadow at the foot of Mali kalnik, from where a sharp ascent leads along its ridge to the site of the castle From Vukovec to Mali Kalnik. If, on the other hand, we start from the village of Vukovec, we will first turn north for 2 km, down the road to the village of Vojnovec where, some 50 m from the local inn, a marked cart track (!) bears left. After following this track for 150 m we turn right off it, through a corn field, onto another cart track (!!), climbing along it for a further 20 minutes until we suddenly come out onto a wide dirt road. Our route crosses this road, leads through brushwood until it arrives at a meadow with a path leading through it (!!!) and which shortly enters the forest once again, beneath the rocks of Mali Kalnik. Having reached the ridge of Mali Kalnik, a 5-minute hike along it brings us to the peak. MALI KALNIK (429 m). Its specific location has made it a sanctuary for many rare and protected plants, which is why it was granted the status of a protected botanical reserve. The peak, known as Pusta Barbara after the homonymous plant that grows there, is rock-bound. On its barren slope stand the remains of Pusti Grad, once upon a time a small burgh with a semi-circular ground-plan. It was first mentioned as long ago as 1334, but it lost its importance when, in 1663, Gaspar Orehovecki built a new castle at Gornja Rijeka - which is clearly visible from Mali Kalnik. Despite its somewhat insignificant height, Mali Kalnik and its steep rocky slopes make it a truly beautiful location. From Vukovec direct to Veliki Kalnik. If we do not wish to go to Mali Kalnik, we would do better to start out from Vukovec, from where there are two routes to Veliki Kalnik: one join the training route and the other leading to Veliki Kalnik, through Ilica - a small ethno-park comprising a long row of vineyard huts and lovingly tended vineyards. From Mali Kalnik down the training route to the mountain lodge. This route leads across Mali Kalnik, downhill and eastwards. After 30 minutes we come to the training route which circles around the highest peak of Mali Kalnik, and along its length 10 tablets draw one's attention to specific features and providing information about them. One can opt for either its northern or its southern side, both of which will take us to the Mountain lodge after about 1 h of leisurely walk. The training route on Kalnik is circular in form, 5 km long and can be covered in 2-3 h of undemanding walking. The route begins at the Kalnik castle ruins, runs along the northern side of the Kalnik ridge, skirts around it and returns to the lodge along its southern side. The starting point of the route is marked by a fairly large sign post. THE MOUNTAIN LODGE AT KALNIK (480 m) stands between Vranilac Peak and the ruins of Veliki Kalnik, on the edge of wide meadows next to Kraljevo vrelo (King's Well). The lodge comprises two large dining rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor, and 11 bedrooms (1x3, 9x2, 1x12 beds) on the first floor. The lodge is permanently open (it also has a restaurant and an inn), and has electricity, water, TV and a telephone booth. It is reached via the road leading through the village of Kalnik (ascent up to 18%). Kalnik Rocks. All around the highest peak and Stari Grad (Old Town) are many rocks reaching up to 40 m in height. In 1986 members of the Krizevci Alpine Section Krizevci began to organize climbing routes through those rocks. To date, 30 such routes have been created, mostly around Stari Grad and on Pomper's Rock. Since 1991 the Kalnik Rocks have gained in popularity among sports climbers from all over Croatia, because here they are able to find routes of varying degrees of difficulty - from the very easy to the truly demanding. Ascent to Veliki Kalnik. The vicinity of the lodge offers a number of opportunities, the most attractive being the ascent to the Veliki Kalnik ruins. VELIKI KALNIK (first mentioned in the 13th century) once consisted of three parts, each of which was built in a different historical period. The oldest part was built at the time of the Tartar invasion, and although small and constricted it provided shelter even for royalty, including such illustrious personages as King Bela IV. During the reign of King Sigismund, when it was frequented by Barbara Celjska (Countess Barbara of Celje, known in local tradition as the Black Queen), the burgh enjoyed the status of a royal palace. The rock upon which this old burg perched is well known far and wide as an Alpine training ground (it offers about 20 routes). The ascent to the ruins is possible only from the southern side, starting from the Podgraden meadow, via a stone stairway leading right through the remains of ancient walls. Strewn along the southern foothills of the Kalnik mountain are a number of villages. Of interest is the fact that some peasant families from those villages were released from the bondage of serfdom as early as the 13th century. During the Tartar invasion, King Bella IV granted the local people the status of nobility in acknowledgement of their meritorious service during that war. This class of small landed gentry is known locally as "sljivari" (plum-growers) because legend has it that they saved the burgh and the king from starvation with their plums. Ascent to Vranilac Peak. The other interesting option is the 15-minute ascent along the rocky ridge of the mountain to Vranilac, its highest peak. The route leading to the peak on the northern side is Alpine in character, while from the south an asphalt road leads directly to the peak. VRANILAC (643 m) is the highest peak in the whole of Kalnik, and its broken, craggy boulder shape is clearly visible from Prigorje. The peak is marked by a geodetic post from which one can enjoy a lovely view of both Prigorje and Zagorje. Beneath the peak is a TV tower, and from the peak, extending in a north-easterly direction is a string of pointed rocks, popularly known as "the 7 teeth". Peca, 40 minutes. Here, the route turns north, behind the lodge and to Varazdinske Toplice (Varazdin Spas) - Novi Marof crossing (10 minutes); there, it veers right and uphill through the forest to a plateau known as Bravcev vrh. Here, at another branch point, the route bears left, reaching the peak after 10 minutes. PECA (620 m) is a peak in the mountain spur which branches off northwards from the Kalnik ridge and which is characterized by open meadows, from where there is a beautiful view taking in Ivanscica and Ljubelj. In contrast toVranilec, there is no outstanding rock on Peca, not even a prominent peak. Its beauty lies in its rich world of flowers - totally opposite to the nature of limestone-built Vranilac. Vratno, 1.30 h. From the lodge we turn north towards Novi Marof, through the Prezid Pass beneath the ruins and where, immediately behind it, we turn right along the forested northern slope of the Kalnik ridge. The route then descends to and crosses a log-bridge spanning a stream, leading to Vratno Hunters' Lodge. VRATNO is a picturesque narrow passage in the eastern part of Kalnik and was created by the Kamesnica stream by widening its source from the southern to the eastern side of the Kalnik ridge, all the way to Kozji hrbat (Goat's Back). In ancient times this was an important point on the Roman route to Varazdinske Toplice (Aquae Iassae), because it was relatively easily defendable. The site was first mentioned in 1207 in the Charter issued by King Andrija as porta lapidea (Stone Gate). Today this "gate" has been widened in order to enable the road leading from Krizevci to pass through it. Located in the area now is the Hunters' Lodge, an awning, a boccia court , a bowling alley and a camping site. Not far from here is Skrinja (Coffer) Peak which, as well as the existence of three caves nearby, provides lovely views Through Prigorje to Krizevci. Once we have toured the sites of Kalnik we have to turn away from the Lodge towards Krizevci, a distance of 18k m (a hike of more than 4 h). Additionally, from the centre of Krizevci it is a further 30-minute walk to the railway station. Although there is a marked mountaineering route leading to Krizevci (mostly across meadows, where it is rather difficult to follow the markings) it is increasingly rarely used. However, it is not difficult to find one's way since there are a number of local roads linking the foothill villages to Krizevci. Despite its considerable length, this route is highly gratifying - passing through lovely landscapes in the foothill region, with the Kalnik ridge in constant view. Those who do not fancy such a long trek can take a bus from Gornja Rijeka which departs Gronja Rijeka at 6 p.m. on Sundays. KRIZEVCI (136 m) is a historical little town that was awarded the status of a free royal town in 1225. Throughout history it has been the centre of the County, which indeed it still is. In Zakmardi Street there still exist the remains of the city gate dating from the time when the town was fortified. The 11th-century church of the Holy Cross, after which the town itself was named (Kriz: Cross), was the venue for 38 sessions of the Croatian Sabor, one of them being the notorious so-called Bloody Sabor of 1397, when King Sigismund ordered the slaughter of Viceroy Lackovic and his supporters. RETURN TRIP: by bus or train from Krizevci



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